Friday, February 5, 2016

HYH: Urban Opt Out Is a Thing

Have You Heard is a new podcast series from Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster), one of the handful of edubloggers who does the work of a real journalist.

For her first episode, she and blog partner Aaron French have traveled to Philadelphia to talk to some Opt Out activists who are not suburban white soccer moms, but urban African-American parents. It's a group that has been largely invisible in mainstream coverage of the opt-out movement, in particular because the narrative of the Testocrats has been that the Big Standardized Test is an important civil rights tool, opposed only (as famously suggested by Arne Duncan) a bunch of white suburban moms who are mad that the BS Test reveals their children to be less brilliant than they supposed.

But Philadelphia activists like Robin Roberts, Will Thomas, Shakeda Gaines and Tonya Bah reveal another picture.

Their growth as opt-out activists has been gradual, in part because Philly school authorities denied that opt out exists in PA, that parents have no such rights. The first time Gaines took her opt-out letter to the school and was denied. Says Thomas, "They'll look you right in your face and make you believe that what you're feeling isn't real."Yet Pennsylvania clearly has an opt out law on the books, allowing any parent to opt out of just about any educational activity based on religious objections-- and there is no requirement for them to explain the nature of that religious objection.

These parents see the stakes as large, and throughout the interview it becomes clear that they see the issue of testing as part of a larger assault on their schools. Schools that are already on starvation budgets still keep the testing no matter what the budget cuts. Resources are lost. Thomas asks if children doesn't do well, is there a program that says "Let's assist them." Is there money set aside to "empower" that school? No, he says. They close it. Your child is bussed out.

Bah says that students, teachers and parents have a right to be part of the decisions about the school. And that's a recurring theme for these activists-- the view that the BS Testing juggernaut is part of a mechanism for dismantling local schools and silencing local voices. "We will have a community of people that merely follow directions. I'm not interested in that type of community." Opt out is a way to demand that schools are centers of learning, not of testing.

There's much more to hear, though the podcast clocks in at just over 19 minutes. Give it a listen right in the space below, and then if you like it, make a contribution to the work that Berkshire and French have set out to do.You can catch my full-on pitch right here. 

This is a great podcast to share; it's clear and understandable and fair and even people who haven't been closely following the issues will still see clearly what is going on. Take a listen, then share it with a friend.

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